AFB v. Herbst: Facilities manager sues Herbst; first selectman calls lawsuit 'baseless'
AFB Construction Management, the facilities manager for the Town of Trumbull, is suing First Selectman Timothy Herbst for what the company called “tortious interference” and damage to the company’s reputation.
The company claims Herbst “interfered” and stopped the company from acting as a construction administrator for a project at Trumbull Loves Children Inc.
AFB oversees town capital projects, including Trumbull High School’s $64-million renovation project.
TLC Inc., a 501(c)3 that operates a before- and after-school care facility on town-owned property, behind Daniels Farm School, was looking to hire the firm as a construction administrator for a project.
Alfonso F. Barbarotta, president and CEO of AFB, said Herbst “crossed the line.”
“He threatened TLC, saying he would pull their lease on school property if they hired me as construction administrator,” Barbarotta said.
Herbst responded to the lawsuit recently, calling it “baseless” and saying it was an attempt to “vex, harass and intimidate town officials.”
“Our ethics code is very clear on conflicts of interest,” Herbst said. “If Mr. Barbarotta is our facilities manager and oversees our capital projects and, on the other end, is also construction administrator for TLC’s expansion on town-owned property, if a conflict arises, whose interest is he going to protect? You can’t serve two masters.”
Herbst said if he ignored the potential conflict of interest it would be like endorsing a violation of the town ethics code.
Barbarotta said AFB working with both TLC and the town at the same time is nothing new. He said AFB has had a contract with the Trumbull Board of Education since 1986 and had a contract to work for TLC back in 1991.
“What has changed between 1991 and now?” Barbarotta asked.
Barbarotta says the first selectman’s interference was personal and “inappropriate.”
“He acts in a capacity where if you don’t agree with him he has to eliminate you,” he said of Herbst. “If you are not part of his team you are his enemy.”
Herbst said he was simply upholding the town Code of Ethics.
“I’ve been through this before,” Herbst said. “This happens when you’re dealing with people who are used to getting what they want.”
Barbarotta said he did not want to comment yet specifically on an ethics complaint that involves AFB. The Board of Finance voted last week to give the Ethics Commission $5,000 to hire an independent counsel to help handle an ethics complaint made recently. Details of the complaint are not yet available.
“We are a construction management firm. If we do something wrong, fire us; if we do something illegal, arrest us; but we don’t believe we fall under the town Code of Ethics,” he said.
Herbst also said he would withhold comment on the complaint.
“They are still in the discovery phase,” Herbst said “I want to let them do their job and then I will comment.”
Barbarotta said he has worked to maintain a positive reputation over the years and has deep community roots.
“My wife was born in this town and my kids went through the great school system here,” Barbarotta said. “I’ve always had a great working relationship with the town and school system, through Democratic and Republican first selectmen.”
Herbst said the lawsuit is a result of his administration making sure processes and protocols are followed.
“Any contractor that wants to do business here will have to adhere to the processes and protocols we follow — and everyone will get a fair and equal opportunity,” Herbst said. “There will be no more monopolies — no more lax and loose with the rules, and we will uphold our ethics code.”
Barbarotta said he doesn’t plan on backing down.
“This is my town, I’ve been here a lot of years — I’m not moving out and I will protect my name,” Barbarotta said.